Garden State Radio (GSR) is not only a band not-to-be-missed, it’s a concert experience not-to-be-missed. They play all the top hits and have the best lights in the business. They describe their show as the ultimate experience in sight and sound, an audio visual event like no other. They transform a venue’s atmosphere. Having seen a few GSR shows myself, this is an accurate description. This Friday and Saturday night at the Pickle Barrel in Killington, they will blow the roof off — and light it up, too.
A lot has changed in the three years since I interviewed Bobby August, the lead singer and bass player, so drummer Ryan Kelly spoke with me about it. They got a new guitarist two years ago — Michael Gleisberg — and a new female vocalist a year ago: Hannah Peterson, who also plays the piano. Everyone but Kelly takes a turn with the lead vocals, which is huge because some bands only have one lead singer. They have three. And they’re doing a lot more touring. Kelly sai, “We’re doing it [routing] more heavily than years in the past. We’ve gone pretty far down in Virginia and have played some shows in Florida, too.” They’re heading back to Florida next month for some college shows.
Kelly is really excited about the member changes and said, “It’s nothing short of a miracle. Everyone we have now is super dedicated.” Gleisberg auditioned for GSR back in the beginning, and it came down to him and former drummer Nick Navarro. Back then he wasn’t chosen because he wasn’t as seasoned as they needed him to be. Kelly added, “We always kept Mike in the back of our minds as far as a player and a personality and his musicianship. Naturally when things were going south with Nick, Mike was definitely the first choice.”
It’s an interesting story as to Peterson joined the band. She hails from Southington, Conn. and had played in some cover bands there. She was vacationing in Ocean City, Md. and saw GSR playing down at Secrets. She knew nothing about them, just happened to be there. She enjoyed the band so much, she went back and told her band they needed to be more like them. GSR did a string of shows in Connecticut and at one, Peterson joined them on stage for a song and Kelly said they all were like, “Whoah.” Some time passed and things were happening with the band. They were ready to make a switch, and she was first on the list. Kelly said, “We reached out to her but didn’t think she would be able to change her whole life for it. She jumped on it right away and moved from Connecticut to New Jersey. She pretty much dropped everything and was full steam ahead from the beginning.”
Peterson talked about that move. “I gave up a full-time job, my friends and my family. I just always knew that singing was something I wanted to do so it was kind of a no-brainer for me. It has been everything I expected it to be with the traveling, the quality of the show we’re putting out and meeting all the fans. Honestly, it’s been a dream. I’ve been in other bands before where the chemistry wasn’t correct. Joining these guys, it’s really felt like I was being inducted into a family. There was never any awkward getting-to-know-each-other. Instantly, we all just had a great connection. We all just took it from there.”
Peterson was really excited about getting to perform with August, and for good reason. I have known August since 1997 and have been seeing him perform here in Killington ever since. To this day, my favorite cover band to ever play in Killington is his first band, the Wallbangers. August is a beast on stage so I can understand people being psyched to play with him. Peterson said, “He’s great. I have been such a big fan of Bobby’s voice and everything about him and I thought he was so cool. When Ryan called me and asked me to join the band, I asked if I got to sing with Bobby and he said ‘yes,’ so I said ‘Perfect.’”
The band has now turned this into a full-time job. Kelly said, “It’s all we do, none of us have other jobs. This is our business and we treat it that way. It definitely reflects in the product and what we’re able to do all the time.” Another change is that they used to have to do everything themselves, and now they have a three person crew that includes their own sound engineer. They still do all the lighting, but having the crew helps a lot. Ryan added, “It’s more of a production than anything. Sometimes we show up at a venue and we’re told that we show up with more production than some national acts.”
Another emphasis is social media. In the past year since Peterson joined they have really stepped it up. Kelly said, “We’re really focusing on content — high quality content.” On their YouTube channel, they have some produced videos. They did an acoustic session and a car pool karaoke session. “It’s gotten way more concentrated than in the past,” Kelly added.
GSR is not your average bar band playing all the average tunes. Kelly said, “We try and stick to the stuff that always works like sing-a-longs and stuff like that, but we also try and push the envelope. We always try to do new material. With every song the band puts in hours of work, making it the best it can be. As far as the lighting and video, it’s all tied in specifically. We know that playing these songs beforehand will replicate that consistency.” Kelly does all the lighting and August all the video but everyone in the band picks the songs they play. August said, “I thought the cover scene was over with, but we’re proving it otherwise through a lot of hard work and cool ideas and it’s doing really well.”
August talked about the lighting. “We decided when we started this, that we wanted to go big or go home.” They set out to be the band that when you walk into the club you feel like you’re in an arena size show.
The show they put out is only because of hard work. Kelly talked about it. “We’re putting in 12- to 15-hour days and with any other job, you would feel beat up. Whenever we have a day that is that long, we get to do three sets in a night and that energy that we put together is unlike anything else. I’ve played with other bands where that feels like an eternity and you’re just wishing for it to be over, but for some reason the energy that comes out when we’re playing together is very different and you always feel that you could be up there for longer.”
Peterson added, “Honestly, my favorite part of doing this is the interaction and the energy from the audience. I love the moments where we drop out and we have the people sing back to us. Watching the excitement and the joy and the kind of carelessness we give the audience for the next three hours. When I was younger and going to see bands, music was like therapy to me. I would go see my favorite singer or band and leave feeling really inspired and wanting to give back that feeling that they gave me to other people. I’ve had people come up and tell us that we are their safe haven. Everything that we’re doing is for our audience and our crowd. Definitely anytime we can interact with them is my favorite part.”